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Safely Reaching and Leaving Your Roof

Solar panels require very little maintenance. If anything, the occasional trip up onto the roof to sweep or rinse the panels is all that is required—perhaps some intermittent tree trimming as well to prevent shading. Whether it’s once a month or once a year, however, safety should always be consideration number one when working on the roof.

Setting Up an Extension Ladder

In the vast majority of cases, people use an extension ladder to climb up onto the roof. Here are some important steps in setting up the ladder safely:

  1. Lay the ladder flat on the ground, with feet facing upward and pressed against the side of the house. Do not extend the ladder until it is upright. Using a hand-over-hand motion, walk the ladder until it is vertical against the siding.
  2. With two hands slowly pull the base of the ladder out and away from the house until it rests at about a 75-degree angle (assuming level grade). You don’t want the ladder too vertical as the top may tend to fall backward as you climb. And you don’t want it too horizontal because the bottom may slide out as you climb.
  3. Make sure the ladder is resting on level ground. On the side of a slope you may have to dig out some soil on the uphill side where that ladder foot wants to rest.
  4. Do not climb until both sides of the ladder are resting squarely on the edge of the roof eave.
  5. Extend the ladder at least three feet above the edge of the roof. This will aide in stepping on and off the ladder safely.
  6. Do NOT stand on any rung that is above the point of contact between ladder and house.
  7. Always keep two hands on the ladder (sides) as you climb. Do not use the rungs to pull yourself up—use your feet to climb and keep your hands on the sides.

Walking on the Roof

Always be careful when walking on the roof. Those with bad or injured feet, ankles, or knees should think twice. Try to keep your feet on an angle or nearly parallel with the edge of the roof/ridge line. In other words, don’t walk directly toward the edge of the roof. Try to keep your hands free for balance and stability.

It is easiest to walk up roof valleys or hips, but do not walk directly on the hip line or in the valley. Remember to leave yourself a dry path down the roof if you are up there to hose off your solar panels.

For steeper roof pitches—those 8/12 and steeper—it would be wise to contact a professional roofer or your solar installer to do the job. These pitches are NOT safe to walk on without safety precautions being made—precautions a professional is quite used to. It won’t cost that much and it is well worth your safety. Some solar installers will even incorporate a checkup/maintenance regimen into the original contract, so don’t hesitate to ask about such a possibility.

The Dismount

Always keep three points of contact (two feet and one hand) whenever doing work on a ladder. In the case of getting down from the roof, put both hands (but not all your weight) on the top rungs of the ladder for balance and carefully place one and then the other foot on the first rung of the ladder that is BELOW the edge of the roof. Square up your body and then climb down the same way you climbed up.

If you are carrying items on your rooftop journey, just remember that nothing in your hands is as important as your safety. Too many roof accidents happen because someone loses their grip on something, instinctively reach out for it, and then fall right along with it. Whatever it is, if you feel imbalanced, let it go.

Experts can explain in words for days how to properly get up and down from your roof, but it will take some practice to get used to using an extension ladder. If for some reason you are new to using an extension ladder, it is a good idea to practice at a less dangerous height if possible.

One more note: Never try to use a step ladder to get on and off your roof and if you are uncomfortable with the shakiness or flexibility of the ladder (remember that ladders are built to be somewhat flexible at high heights to prevent snapping), get someone to hold the ladder at the bottom. This will ensure that the ladder does not slide or slip out.

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